San Francisco is a brilliant city to visit and explore as a tourist. I’m not sure I’d actually want to live there, but there’s heaps to do and if the weather is in your favour you can get out and about and enjoy the water’s edge on a bike or on foot. San Fran has a whole host of different neighbourhoods which each warrant time to nosey around. I’ve been twice now, and the second time the added bonus was a weekend in Napa – tasting wine and gorging on cheese.
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3 THINGS YOU REALLY CANNOT MISS:
GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE | so iconic and totally amazing! The views are stunning, looking back over the city as well as taking in the expanses of water. First time in San Fran I walked across; second time I cycled. Watch out for the crowds. Both are really fun, but I liked being able to stop and take photos. The added bonus of bikes is that you can go even further on to Sausalito, which is where all the wealthy locals buy mega houses. Also check out: Hotel Zetta and Farallon for a visually impressive dining experience!
ALCATRAZ | possibly the best tour I’ve ever done. Get the boat from Pier 33, and remember your jumper – we were freezing. Mark Twain documented the eerie atmosphere of the island after visiting it, described it as ‘being as cold as winter, even in the summer months.’ In total, five prisoners committed suicide at Alcatraz, and at least a dozen died trying to escape. The tour and audio are excellent, delivering a very real sense of prison bleakness and claustrophobia. ‘The Hole’ – in worst-offenders’ Block D – is particularly unnerving: 5 separate pitch black cells where prisoners were sent, often accompanied with brutal treatment, for long periods of isolation. Also check out: Pier 39 along the Embarcadero to see the fat sea lions.
NAPA VALLEY | reserve a weekend if you can to escape the city and get some sunshine in the wine region. Sit back, sip, relax, sigh. We visited Artesa for a brilliant wine and cheese pairing; Domaine Carneros for sparkling samplings; my favourite Silverado with its stunning views and connection to the Disney family; and low-key Cline for a good Sunday vibe. Also check out: the Andaz hotel and The Thomas for dinner in cute little Napa, and Sonoma Raceway on the way back in to San Fran.
3 THINGS WORTH A SNOOP:
LOMBARD STEPS | worth the hike up for more great panoramas, and a snoop at the famous squiggly hair pinned road that loads of mad tourists were driving down. From the top you can really appreciate the grid formation of the city and peer down the poker straight roads. Also check out: jump on the Powell-Hyde cable car line which will take you right from the centre to Lombard Street.
OPEN TOP BUS | this was a surprisingly fun way to get a glimpse of many of San Fran’s diverse neighbourhoods – we picked it up from the Palace of the Fine Arts and stayed on through the Italian area of North Beach; Union Square; China Town; Financial District; The Haight, before jumping off at Golden Gate Bridge. Also check out: the Marina Motel for accomm and nearby Mamacitas on Cheshnut Street.
BODEGA BAY | North of San Fran along the California coastline, Bodega Bay is famous as the location where Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ was filmed, and regardless of this association it’s definitely worth a stop – and only an hour of so out of San Fran. Also check out: Lucas Wharf for dinner.
3 THINGS TO STAY CLEAR:
HOMELESS PEOPLE | it sounds incredibly harsh to say this, but San Fran does have a notably large volume of homeless people, due apparently to the city being fairly liberal, but also to factors like a temperate year round climate; the port being a disembarcation point after Korean and Vietnam Wars; insane asylums emptied on the streets in the 80s; extremely high housing costs. Until recently, the here.– where most of San Fran’s homeless come from – had some of the most beneficial regulatory policies on homelessness. It can be pretty unsettling, as no one could ever give money or food to everyone and you end up feeling guilty the entire time. There’s some more interesting view points
HAIGHT-ASHBURY | this neighbourhood, or The Haight, is certainly interesting and has a vibrant history that revolves around 60s hippie culture and music, including places of interest like the world’s largest independent record store Amoeba Music and murals like one of Jimi Hendrix, who lived at 1524 Haight Street. However I think part of its appeal is that it is still pretty grungy, and it didn’t do it for me.
THE CASTRO | is also a nice area and we checked out the Theatre, but if you’re pushed for time (we only had one full day) then I’d be tempted to bypass it – in reality there’s nothing much there on the surface to explore. I love the film Milk and wanted to visit this place where so much history has unfolded, but in hindsight my advice would be to read up on the Gay Rights movement instead.
1 THING I WISH I’D DONE:
THE MISSION | we had an extremely jet-lagged evening out here following tasty Mexican at Pancho Villa Taqueria on 16th, but I think we only scratched the surface of what could be an interesting – again complete with your typical San Fran mix, this time of hipsters, Mexicans, hippies and homeless people. Similarly, with more time and a few insider tips I think I could have gotten to know The Haight and The Castro, as well as other suburbs, a bit better.
AND KNOW THIS: The Chinese fortune cookie was invented in fact by a Japanese resident of San Francisco.